On Monday I emailed my friend Melissa about getting together for lunch. I wrote, "I can get together any day except Friday." She wrote back, "Great! I'll come to your office on Friday."
A while ago, I was asked to have a teleconference with several doctors. I emailed Chris, the coordinator: "I can be available any time except Tuesday morning and Wednesday afternoon." She responded, "Fine. Let's meet Tuesday morning at 10 o'clock."
What went wrong? It wasn't that these people did not really want to meet with me. It was that I made "exceptions." By using the word except, I emphasized what I could not do–not what I could do. They read what I wrote–just not all of it. Although my statements were clear, they were not structured in a way that my readers could quickly and correctly take in the information. Melissa focused on the word Friday. Chris read simply "Tuesday morning and Wednesday afternoon."
Now I have learned my lesson. I will not make exceptions! The next time I invite Melissa to lunch I will write, "I am available Monday through Thursday." To Chris, I would write, "Here are the days I can meet: Monday, Thursday, and Friday. I can also meet Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning." Although I cannot guarantee that we will be able to arrange our calendars, at least I will increase our odds of success.